Monday, January 5, 2015

Compulsory Attendance at University Lectures and Tutorials

There appears to be a requirement for many Australian educational instutions for students to attend at least 80% of classes. A search on "attend at least 80%" produces 35,000 web pages at Australian educational institutions. Some of these refer to "scheduled contact hours", some just to "tutorials" and some to lectures and tutorials. This 80% rule appears to be derived from the English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) government rules, even though providers are not required to monitor attendance for higher education courses.

In my view, requiring attended is not a good idea, as not assessing what the student can do (apart from the ability to turn up). If there is a low attendance rate at classes, then the university needs to address the reason for that. It may be the students do not perceive any value in the classes (and there may be little value).

If an institution does have a rule requiring a minimum level of attendance, then it must put in place a system to record attendance and check it. If an institution has such a rule then it would be unfair (and most likely unlawful) to arbitrarily apply it to some students and not others. If the intention is that students with good marks are not required to attend class, then the rule needs to be rewritten to say that.

A better alternative is to conduct some form of assessment in the class, or which depends on the class, so students will at least see that if they don;t attend, they will not pass.

In my "ICT Sustainability" course students are assessed on their answers to questions in the on-line forums for about 20% of the overall assessment.

In the ACS version of the course students are required to pass this part of the assessment to pass the course overall. So students have to participate in at least half the forums to be able to pass the course. The ANU doesn't impose this requirement in their version of the course, but students still participate at about the same rate.

In practice no more than about 10% of the students miss a forum (very few miss more than one forum). Each student gets a report on the class average mark and their own mark each week, along with feedback. I suspect is not the loss of marks so much as the regular reminders to participate and also seeing what their peers are doing which encourages participation.

But the requirement to participate in every forum can be a burden for the student and the teacher (I have to consider requests for exemptions from students who miss a week). So this year for the ANU version of the course I am changing the assessment to the best 10 out of 12 weeks. The idea is that the student can miss two weeks without worrying too much.

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